Plein Air Painting South Dakota

September 2013.  My trip to do plein air painting South Dakota was part of my visit to North Dakota and Wyoming

South Dakota is State #16 in my Quest to Paint all 50 States.

South Dakota Flag

Here is an interesting fact about South Dakota.  As the State was part of the Louisiana Purchase, many of the place names are French in origin.

South Dakota State Flag features the state seal surrounded by a golden blazing sun in a field of sky blue. Letters reading "South Dakota, The Mount Rushmore State" -- the official state nickname -- are arranged in a circle around the sun.

State Capitol: Pierre

State Bird: Ring Necked Pheasant

State Flower:   Pasque Flower - Pulsatilla hirsutissima

Artists Suzanne Elliott of Santa Cruz,  and Eunice Van Der Linden of Scotts Valley, Ca. drove from North Dakota via The Devil's Tower National Monument in North Eastern Wyoming.  We stopped to paint the Tower before continuing on to the town of Newcastle, Wyoming.  Eunice's brother lives and works in Newcastle and had very kindly offered us lodging at his beautiful Victorian era home for the 4  days we were painting in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  The Black Hills and Custer State Park happen to be 30 miles away and an easy drive from the house.    Thank you to The Millers for your kind hospitality!

Belle Fourche - and the 50 States Flag Park

We stopped for a lunch break at the town of Belle Fourche in South Dakota.  We were attracted to a very lovely riverside park - it just happened to be The Geographic Center of the United States!  They have the spot marked with a large compass and mosaic as well as a walk way of the Flags of all 50 States.  Given the nature of my painting quest I was quite beside myself with delight at finding this place quite by coincidence.   A lot of civic pride is evident in this place, which I really enjoyed.  They even have a history docent on location to answer questions in an old log/sod cabin on the premises.   Stop at this place if you can - it is one of those "back roads" places that are sure to delight.

Crow Buttes and Strange Roadside Signs

I'm attracted to odd signs and plaques on the side of the road as I travel - here are a couple we saw on the road in South Dakota.

Elk Mountain Lookout, South Dakota

On our first full day in South Dakota I took off on my own in the morning while Eunice visited with her brother back at their house.  I drove directly east on Route 16 and crossed the Wyoming/South Dakota state line in 12 miles or so.  

I found a nice gravel road heading south towards Elk Mountain Lookout.   I pulled off the road in the shade of some ponderosa pines and set up my easel looking south towards the mountains and a ranch house complex in the distance.   The above painting is the one I painted from this spot

At least four ranchers in their trucks (one with a collie dog sharing the cab) stopped to ask if I was OK.  The few other vehicles that came by slowed and the drivers waved.  Very friendly folks around here.  My rental car had Virginia plates and I was a woman painting by herself - so they were kind to inquire.   It felt wonderful to be out in the open country in good weather with just the birds and wind for company.   

Custer State Park, South Dakota

After my solo morning painting session, I drove back and picked up Eunice at her brother's home.  We then got a sandwich to go and headed back out into the landscape - Custer State Park was our goal for an afternoon painting.  The entrance fee for Custer State Park is $15.00 (no Senior discount either).  The pass is good for 10 days or one can buy a Season Pass to all South Dakota State Parks for $30.  A good deal if you live there or visit more than once a year.

We decided to drive The Wildlife Loop in the park hoping to find the large herds of Bison that the park is famous for - Other than one lone bull in his dust wallow - we had no luck .  We did see a nice herd of Pronghorn  and some Mule deer.

We decided to set up our  plein air painting gear on a hillside and painted rolling hills, trees and sky.  Here is my painting from the afternoon.  

Just as we finished putting our gear away, a massive herd of bison showed up on the distant hillsides.  It would have been a bad choice to put them in the painting anyway, so it was just as well we weren't tempted to try it. 

The Black Hills and Needles Rocks, South Dakota

Our 2nd full day of painting and traveling in the Black Hills, found us at The Needles on Route 87 through the Black Hills.  The Needles is an area of dagger-like slabs of granite - rather like giant teeth thrusting up from the earth towards the sky.  As these rocks are such a unique part of the Black Hills geology and landscape, we decided to have a go at painting them.   The Needles are granite and metamorphized rock. 

We found a good spot that gave us a decent view and set to work.  Here is my plein air painting from that spot.  As is always the case with rocks, one needs to paint the shadow areas in as quickly as possible before the light changes too much.  Without the shadows the rocks just aren't that interesting.  We painted for 3 hours and then had lunch of a Bison Burger at a roadside cafe. Here is the painting I did of the Needles.

Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota

Mt. Rushmore and the famous heads of the Presidents sculpted out of granite was a short distance from our lunch spot.  We were surprised to find that Mt. Rushmoor  is not a National Park (it is a National Monument)  and that a private concession runs the place and takes entrance fees.  I had expected that a location eliciting such patriotic fervor would be run by the National Park Service - but no such luck.  We decided not to pay their entry fee of $11 and got some good photos of the mountain from the road for free.

Crazy Horse Mountain, South Dakota

If you ever get to the Black Hills of South Dakota, you must see  Crazy Horse Mountain.  The image of a Warrior on Horseback is being carved out of the granite mountain.  My photo shows the progress so far.  I have also included a photo of the sculpture that will eventually be translated onto the living mountain.  This is a truly spectacular and inspirational place - the project is still in process and is totally funded by the public that visits the mountain, and through fund raising events - here is the link for full information and a chance to donate to this excellent cause - -  

We gladly paid the $10 per person entry fee to the extensive complex of buildings which are about a mile away from Crazy Horse Mountain itself.  There is a museum of Native American artifacts, as well as art and tourist stuff.  The sculptor Korczak's studio is also at this spot. There is a restaurant.  Here is a photo of wonderful Sioux Indian Pony beaded  equipment.  Take a look...


Custer - the Town and Driving home in the Dark - Watch out for Deer!

After visiting Mt. Rushmoor and Crazy Horse we decided it was too dark to keep going so decided to stop in the western town of Custer for a quick meal before heading home for the night.  We found a small Mexican place and had one of their Plate specials. 

After dinner we drove back west to Newcastle.  In the gathering darkness and open range land, I almost hit a deer.  Thankfully I had slowed down a bit just before it stepped right out in front of our car.  I managed to avoid a collision - Scary!  The previous night we found out that a mother and 2 kids were involved in a nasty car accident not too far away.  She swerved to avoid a deer, and rolled the car.  Unfortunately only one person in the car was wearing a seat belt.  2 of the occupants of the car, including the mother, had to be flown to Rapid City for medical care. We hope they are all doing OK now. 

Sometimes I feel that Angels are watching over me.  I'm grateful!

Our last full day - and our  Art Show with Wine and Cheese

Too soon we had run out of time and were on our last full day in South Dakota.  We headed back out to Custer State Park to paint there one last time.  We found a wonderful spot with views in all directions and painted happily there for 3 hours.  Here is my favorite painting of this trip.  Prints and cards of this image available here.

Plein air painting every day for 6 days, sometimes twice a day or more, you do loosen up a lot.  If only I could keep it up!  But life and ordinary stuff needs to go on and we get distracted from what we love most. 

That evening we put on our Art Show of all the paintings each of us had done in 3 States - it was quite a collection.  We toasted our trip and effort with wine and cheese.    Thank you Eunice for being such a great travel and painting buddie.   Thank you South Dakota, you are beautiful!

P.S.  2 weeks after this trip one of the biggest blizzards hit the Black Hills area - 3 ft. of snow and high winds.  Our timing was perfect!

Return to 50 States Quest Page from Plein Air Painting South Dakota


Return to Front Page

To subscribe to our FREE monthly Newsletter - PLEIN AIR MUSINGS - about all things Plein Air, send us your information below.

Enter Your E-mail Address
Enter Your First Name (optional)

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you Plein Air Musings.